Moussaoui Has New View of Justice System

The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 9, 2006; 8:56 AM

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Stunned that he was sentenced to life in prison rather than execution, Zacarias Moussaoui now believes he could get a fair trial from an American jury. Too late, the judge says.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema quickly rejected a motion the confessed al-Qaida conspirator filed Monday to withdraw his guilty plea and get a new trial.

In his motion, Moussaoui said he lied on the witness stand March 27 when he reversed four years of denials and claimed he was to have hijacked a fifth jetliner on Sept. 11, 2001, and crashed it into the White House, "even though I knew that was a complete fabrication."

The 37-year-old Frenchman blamed his behavior on the effects of solitary confinement, his inability to get a Muslim lawyer and his misunderstanding of the U.S. justice system.

Moussaoui said he was "extremely surprised" by his life sentence by a federal court jury last week.

"I had thought I would be sentenced to death based on the emotions and anger toward me for the deaths on Sept. 11," he explained in an affidavit. "But after reviewing the jury verdict and reading how the jurors set aside their emotions and disgust for me and focused on the law and the evidence ... I now see that it is possible that I can receive a fair trial even with Americans as jurors."

After seven days of deliberation, the jury of nine men and three women on Wednesday rebuffed the government's appeal for the death penalty for Moussaoui, the only person charged in this country in the 9/11 suicide hijackings of four commercial jetliners that killed nearly 3,000 people.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema gave Moussaoui six life sentences, to run as two consecutive life terms in the federal supermax prison at Florence, Colo.

At sentencing, Brinkema told him he could not appeal the conviction he got when he pleaded guilty in April 2005. "You waived that right," she said. She said Moussaoui could appeal the life term but "I believe it would be an act of futility."

On Monday, Brinkema said federal rules prohibit withdrawing a guilty plea after sentencing so his request must be rejected.

In filing Moussaoui's motion, his court-appointed lawyers told the court they knew that rule would doom the effort but filed it anyway because of their "problematic relationship with Moussaoui" and because new lawyers have yet to be appointed to replace them.

Brinkema had told the defense team, with whom Moussaoui never cooperated, that they finally could leave the case after filing any motions Moussaoui wanted.

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